Holidays And Relatives
Happy Holidays! It’s a big holiday weekend in the United States, and the biggest shopping weekend of the year. If you’re the sort of person who reads financial independence blogs (instead of shopping), you’re probably hanging-out at home with family.
The holidays are the time of year when families gets together. Mostly to do a lot of eating, and plenty of talking. Our family is no exception. We eat. We talk. We play a few board games. We eat some more… Generally, everyone has a nice time.
But dealing with relatives during the holidays can be a big challenge for the financially independent.
Let me explain why…
It’s been ages since I’ve written about stealth wealth, but that doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten the subject.
Mrs. Tako and I are big believers in stealth wealth, and we keep our finances private. (One of the reasons why I don’t use my real name on this blog) We don’t tell our relatives (or even close friends) how much we’re worth.
People treat you differently when you’re seen as “wealthy”. Suddenly you’re expected to be the guy who’s picking up the bar tab, buying lunch for everybody, or splurging on holiday gifts.
That’s not a perception I want my friends and relatives to have. Instead, we choose to say nothing about our financial independence. Our friends and family have no idea that our net worth is approaching $3 million dollars, or that we’ll generate over $50k in dividends this year.
We let friends and relatives come to their own conclusions about our finances. Most of the time this policy works fine, but it can lead to friction with relatives who create their own “stories” about our financial status.
A Perception Of Poverty
One of the biggest misconceptions people have about our family is that we’re poor. You readers know differently of course, but many of our extended family members believe this.
Are we poor? Let’s look at it from an outside perspective …
1. No Job. I haven’t worked a “traditional” job in nearly two years, and this gives people the impression that we’re poor. Never mind the fact that one income families aren’t uncommon (historically speaking).
Some of our relatives even believe I’m struggling to find a job… desperate to make money! They really don’t get it. It’s been years since I even looked at a job listing! I have zero desire to go back to work.
2. Frugality. Long time blog readers know we’re a pretty frugal family. We rarely eat-out at restaurants, drive older cars, shop at thrift stores, and often prefer to buy used over new.
Frugality is part of how we built our net worth, and there was no reason to stop once we reached financial independence. It’s a way of life.
Unfortunately not everybody perceives frugality in the same way. Many of our relatives think we’re frugal because we have to be, not because we choose to be.
3. Not “Keeping Up”. It’s no secret that we live in a high-cost area. Incomes in the Seattle area are high, but the lifestyle is high-cost too.
Everyone around us has lives filled with hedonic pleasures — fancy new cars, brand new kitchens, hardwood floors, picture-perfect front yards, and everything must be shiny and new. It’s a race to “keep up with the Joneses”.
Frankly, none of it impresses me. I’m totally fine driving an older car, and living in a home from the 1980’s.
Here’s a great example — A friend recently installed a six thousand dollar front door on his house. Yes, six thousand dollars … for a door. That’s ridiculous! I feel absolutely no need to keep up with that.
My relatives (unfortunately) come to a different conclusion when they visit. They look around our neighborhood (or our friend’s homes) and get the impression we’re doing badly, simply because we “don’t have nice things”.
I am sooo sick of hearing that. I don’t want “nice things”. Yes, you read that correctly — I don’t desire “nice stuff” and all the headaches that come with it.
Want an example? I love technology but I don’t want a 4k TV. Our TV was free, and my old eyes simply can’t see the difference between a new 4k TV and our older 1080p TV. Why would I want to upgrade?
We simply don’t want or need “nice things” to feel good about our lives (or to impress people).
If a person gets comfortable living near top of that hedonic treadmill, the pressure to maintain that social status is immense. For our family, chasing an imaginary status level is pointless.
I’d rather have people think I’m poor.
Not A Real Man
These negative perceptions aren’t always about money either — A lot of negativity has to do with fact I’m a stay-at-home dad. Believe it or not, many people (including my relatives) believe a man that doesn’t work outside the home isn’t a real man.
Never mind the fact that being a stay-at-home parent is an incredible amount of work. Apparently being a “real man” means you MUST be the major bread winner for the family… which is completely outdated sexist crap! There are plenty of women who make more money than men, and I hope that number continues to grow.
Still, the negative perception exists and isn’t going away anytime soon. When relatives come to visit during the holidays, I get to deal with these negative comments. Sometimes they even ask Mrs. Tako if she’s “OK” being the breadwinner for the family… as if she might be upset at me for being a stay-at-home dad.
This sexist perception is bogus of course — Mrs. Tako and I both provide for our family. I manage the finances carefully, and we’ve saved over 35 times our annual spending. We simply choose to keep quiet about our financial independence, rather than blasting it to the world.
Mrs. Tako and I are a team. We reached financial independence together. One of the reasons why she still works is because she happens to like her job. NOT because I can’t find work.
I wish I could throw those facts in everyone’s face when I hear the negative comments, but I bite my tongue instead.
Stealth wealth isn’t always easy folks… sometimes it brings out the shitty parts of people.
Our Real Friends And Family
If there’s one advantage to keeping quiet about our finances, it’s the fact that we’ve learned who our REAL friends and family are.
We’ve gotten to see people’s true colors — who’s judgemental, and who’s not. The people who really care won’t put our family down based on the things we don’t buy, or the social status we don’t have.
Our real friends and family maintain good relationships with us regardless of money or status. They don’t feel the need to criticize.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing of course — We’ve lost friends because of our “different lifestyle”, and there are certain family members we don’t visit based-on what we’ve experienced.
I actually view this as a positive thing. It’s given us the opportunity to purge the negative influences from our life. We don’t need people who judge others based upon perceived wealth, or archaic notions about what a family is supposed to look-like. The bonds of family and friendship should go beyond all that nonsense.
So I say to you — Stay strong this holiday! Don’t give into the family pressure to be “normal”. Live your life the way YOU think it should be lived, NOT how some relative thinks you should live.
[Image Credit: Flickr]
35 thoughts on “Holidays And Relatives”
Ha, great post, I love your style of writing. I too love my televisions, and I’ve never paid a dime for them. I have a friend who is complete TV guy and watches way too much television, so he constantly upgrades his TVs every year or so and he just gives me the old ones! It’s crazy the amount of money he’s plowing into televisions, and all I have to do is buy him a beer every once in a while as a thank you.
As for the stealth wealth thing, you say that you don’t mention anything about your financial independence purposely. I find this very difficult now that I’ve gone part time at work because my friends are asking me why I’m home so much and that leads to me telling them what’s going on. I’m not going to lie to them, but I also don’t want to divulge too much like you said because I would rather keep it low-key. I already see them looking at me kind of skeptically and wondering what the hell’s going on.
Hi Accidental Fire! Yeah, people do ask questions. Most of the time I just say “I’m a SAHD” and that shuts people up (don’t ask me why). If they ask more detailed questions about our income I either say “Oh, we have some investments that help out” or “We have savings”.
It answers the questions without being terrible specific about our financial status.
So interesting. I frequently read accounts of people running into issues with family and friends relative to judgements about lifestyle and simply have had no experience with it. Not sure if it is because I am not overly social and therefore do not have people closely examining me or my lifestyle or what. I too used to live in a very nice historical neighborhood in a large Pacific Northwest City and did not keep up with the Jones. Retired relatively young – 50 ish – and played host to the family (big, big) for the holidays, and have never run into anyone casting aspersions towards me or my lifestyle…or again, perhaps I just don’t pay attention if or when they do. Have since sold the house in the status neighborhood and built a home in a very small mountain community. I heavily emphasize living simply and literally spend less than $ 10K a year on my lifestyle and am blessed with a similar outlook to you in that I really do not want anything beyond that. I tried to cure myself of frugality at various points in my life and kept realizing that frugality is actually good for myself and the planet in many, many ways. So now, I indulge my literal enjoyment of my living frugally, and counter that by spending more $ on others – particularly the less fortunate members of that large extended family I love and enjoy. That makes my heart sing. And interestingly enough, my sharing with others has never led to anyone approaching me with expectations of my paying the way. Perhaps it is just my family’s value system at work, truly do not know. But I am truly blessed and have no intention of altering my frugal lifestyle to meet anyone else’s perceived standards. So if you are ever feeling ostracized along your journey, feel free to drop me an email to bolster your approach as I think it is absolutely outstanding that you have chosen to put your most valuable asset – your time – towards the nurturing of your family. I think that is a huge sign of a “real” man, whatever that is. And I applaud your perception of strong women doing well in work and life. Very cool across the board. I enjoy reading your blog, but more importantly perhaps, I respect your values and your lifestyle. Good on you.
Thanks Walty’s Friend! You sound like a pretty decent person yourself. Thanks for sharing your story too!
Without divulging how much you actually have, can you talk about your success in investing and saving? Perhaps those awkward moments can become teachable moments. The real friends may appreciate this.
BTW, Your TV looks better than ours!
For some family members we’ve tried to explain we have income from investments but they just don’t get it. They’re too set in their ways of “keeping up with the Joneses” and working until a “proper” retirement age.
Those same relatives even gave us crap about going on that month long vacation to Japan, saying “That’s not normal.”
Kudos for trying to explain/ help them. I certainly appreciate learning about how to increase my dividends and better ways to invest my money. Thanks!
I love being able to travel for a month in another country. It’s more relaxed and you have time to explore ‘off the beaten track’ places and bond as a family. It opens up the world for your kids and they will always have those memories. Sure, it’s not normal, it’s wonderful!!
Very cool post. I saw this more in China: many people over there like to judge others based on the material possessions. I feel US is much better, and most of the people just mind their own business.
I like a simple life, and don’t want much material stuff. My old tube TV was just phased out probably 3 years ago. It still worked, and sad to see it go. I put it to the curb, and taped the remote control at the top. Glad it found a new home, as someone picked it up. One of our kids got a better TV, and we bought his old 35″ TV for $50. Hey, I’m happy. It’s a flat screen, and I can turn it around easily to watch the ball games better.
People invest gobs of money into entertainment, and it makes little sense.
In the 80’s we had VHS. In the late 90’s and 2000’s it was DVD. Now we’ve got Bluray and streaming. Every generation of entertainment medium starts out costing tons of money and then 5 to 10 years later it’s dirt cheap.
I simply refuse to pay to be on the bleeding edge of entertainment technology when previous generations are basically free. Just wait a few years!
A good book from the library costs nothing (I can even walk to the library), and DVD’s can be rented for free.
This is such an awesome post! Thank you for being so honest and open about your thoughts.
Mr. FAF and I have no wealth to be stealthy about. I think we’re so used to having people think we’re poor we just don’t care anymore. There’s no one we want to impress except for our boss and our colleagues. It’s because we want to advance in our careers and prove ourselves. My husband wears jeans with holes to work. I don’t know if anybody cares, but he refused to buy a new pair of jeans (ehh).
I’m exactly the same way. A few small holes don’t bother me! Eventually though, Mrs. Tako throws them out when the holes get too big.
Some people believe you have to dress nice at work and look professional and “high class”. I’m not sure if it really matters. Maybe it depends upon the industry, or if you’re gunning for a promotion.
Haha awwww you guys have plenty to show for your wealth (not that it matters!) Building wealth takes time Ms FAF, you guys are doing amazing so hush!!
I was driving through the neighborhood and saw a sign for Christmas tree light installation service. If I had coffee in my mouth, I would have spit it out. The fact that there was a sign means there are most likely people that use this service. I mean really who does not know how to install lights, but then again..I know a few people that do not know how to cook and only make low six figures.
Not that my opinion matters much other than I am a Mr. Tako groupie. I think it is rad you stay home with the boys. My kids have benefited greatly from having my influence. I think when I am around they feel important, plus many other benefits. Having one person to keep the house running makes it so much easier for the one who is working to just focus on the job IMHO.
Thanks for another fantastic post.
Hi Marisa! It’s kind words like yours that really keep me going!
There are some days when I get frustrated by the SAHD job, but being able to logon and see awesome comments like this really recharges my batteries!
Thank you! It really means a lot to hear that positive stuff!
Kudos to you for cutting negative people out of your life. Life is too damn short to hang out with assholes.
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So true! It’s hard to “cut out” family of course, but sometimes it’s for the best.
Found this post really interesting, because I couldn’t relate at all to it. Maybe it’s a US thing, but I don’t get the whole display consumption thing. I can honestly say it has never come up in my life (I’m from the UK and living in Japan).
I would say that people thinking you are poor would be a feature, not a bug, except if they are looking down on you, at which point screw them, right? Don’t sound like the kind of people I would want in my life.
Their negative reaction is showing you who the flakes are 😀
Absolutely. Lots of ‘consumption’ flakes in this part of the world.
I’ve been to both the UK and Japan. While I’m no expert, it appears to me the way consume is very differently in those countries. Instead of cars and houses, it’s something else.
For example — in Japan I got the impression that people dress very nicely and spend quite a bit on clothes, expensive handbags, and nice shoes.
Our family probably looked pretty shabby in our thrift-store clothes when we visited Japan. Nobody commented, but I wonder if it would be different if we lived there.
I’m the same -haven’t bought clothes for years 🙂
While I’m still working we ran into something similar to this when I left my job. Everyone kept talking down to us asking if we were ok. I has friends keep offering to help me find a job. I just said thanks and left it at that.
Pretty funny. We don’t let it on but I think we’re sort of in the same boat although We’re not near where you are. We’re well on our way. But family and friends certainly get weird.
Yeah, there were plenty of “very helpful” people when I stopped working, but now it’s starting to turn into something else — criticism, little jokes, etc.
I try to have a thick skin about it, but yeah… they get weird.
What Mr.Wow forgot to mention is how his parents were worried about us financially during the time that he wasn’t working, despite the fact that I was still working. They couldn’t fathom the fact that I could be the bread winner and was happy having him not work and stay at home. I definitely feel that we have gone through very similar thoughts and perceptions about us. So many people think that we can’t afford a house since we still rent. They don’t realize that we are choosing not to buy since the real estate market in LA is outrageous and are doing better because of it. Thanks for the reminders to be true to ourselves and our FI ways during the holidays, its easy to get caught up in the mess of it all and lose sight of what truly matters.
Absolutely Mrs. Wow! I think you guys definitely get it.
As soon as people see you “walking on a different path” through life they get really concerned. They think you’re living life “wrong” or “in trouble”.
It makes me wonder — When did the most common path through life start to become the “best path”?
I’m not so sure it is…
I liked the post, Mr Tako. I think we can live with much less and still be more than content.
Your TV looks great. We don’t even have any TV’s in our house. If someone would like to watch something, we can use our computer, phone or tablet.
Enjoy the holidays!
It’s funny you should mention it… before Mrs. Tako and I got our free TV, we used to use a computer monitor. Our current TV was quite an upgrade, but I did have to build the TV stand.
That’s the first thing I noticed… the DIY TV stand! NICE! I always thought those stands and wall brackets were unnecessarily expensive.
I agree with your overall theme. We recently passed $1M net worth and have largely kept it a secret for fear of judgment. Internally we were pretty thrilled with out milestone!
Right on the money, Mr Tako! So many people have this idea in their head on what life should be all about. New house, new luxury vehicles, the nicest clothes….On and on it goes. We much prefer to go about life on the quiet side as well. Nothing fancy or glamorous, we just keep building our “stack” as time goes on. All while trying to focus on the truly important things in life like quality family time.
Dead-on Mr. Defined Sight!
For many, having “nice things” equates to living a good life… or perhaps “success” in life.
I don’t understand it. I’ll feel “successful” in life if my kids grow up to be good people and I can maintain a reasonably comfortable standard of living.
I don’t need luxury goods to do any of that. 😉
We live on the outskirts of Seattle. Everyone’s working class here so I thankfully haven’t see the hedonistic behavior as often. That would drive me nuts. When we lived in Belltown and Queen Anne, there was a lot of that.
“I really don’t think you need a Orange Theory special trainer for you to lose 3 lbs honey…” <– I thought that constantly watching those wives in those fancy gyms next to that sushi restaurant and eco friendly spa.
I think this is why I love finding my FI tribe at Chautauqua and meeting them around the world. It’s so refreshing when you meet people who just “get it”. Especially since my own mother doesn’t get it. So I hear you on the challenges of friends and family who keep pushing you to get “nice things” and keep up in the Joneses. On the plus side, like you said, it does weed out fake friends. My real friends know about our story in the news and they haven’t treated us any differently. I’ve lost a few fake friends that I’m happy to have out of my life and gained SO many way better real friends through blogging. I have no regrets.
Share this video about consumerism with your judgy family and friends if they still don’t get it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9dZQelULDk&sns=em
Love the video! Thanks for sharing!
Oh gosh that must be annoying…to have family judge about SAHD status. I guess they don’t realize the concept of FIRE and that you have achieved FIRE and that’s why you don’t need to work. In my head I would have the “haters gonna hate” slogan when I hear those things.
Congrats not he 3 millionaire status! You guys are the millionaires next door and they don’t even know it! 🙂
Freedom of time > material goods. Every time!
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I know you said you bite your tongue but what do you actually say? Do you literally say nothing? Or do you turn it around on them somehow (nicely or not so nicely), etc.?
I’m a SAHM on my husband’s teacher salary and I’m getting grief about going back to work now that my son is in Kinder. For example We don’t buy presents for anyone but the kids and they think it’s so sad (they insist on buying gifts for everyone! No name drawing and my husband has 7 siblings). But we have a life! We don’t run around like chickens. We have time for each other. We don’t feel we need to upgrade the floors despite the fact the laminate coating wore off in places. Lol.
we don’t have Wealth yet but we will be early retired in 10 years (yay teacher pension!) and our lifestyle won’t change. The criticism is comming from people we can’t cut. I’m curious if any strategies have worked for you. If I don’t find something that works soon I’m going to blow my top and seeing as how we won’t be telling people about our wealth I don’t see the situation changing. Sigh. Any ideas?
Oh man this post brings back memories. For a brief period of like 3 years where we have constant interactions with my husband family on a daily basis, we gotten so much flak for our spending habits… Our spending habits consisted of spending on only spending things if we need it and cut everything else out and save the money instead.
We’re considered the black sheep of the family… and there been so many intervention meetings between my husband and his family regarding our spending habits as they felt we’re wasting our youth by not enjoying our life to the fullest.
We haven’t been called poor as they know we make pretty good income, but we’ve been label as cheap… It’s been the hardest on my husband as he literally been kinda outcasted by his own siblings for his spending habits.
It’s better now as its no longer a daily interactions… but perceptions of being cheap still lingers among his family who don’t believe in the habit of saving and can’t understand our life style. I wished I kept information about our income to ourselves, it would have been easier to just let people think we’re poor.